Sylvana Joyce & the Moment are an up and coming New York City gypsy rock, soul and blues band. Originally published in her blog scenipedia, Sylvana attributes much of her drive and success to her Romanian-born mother who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and raised her alone after her father left home when she was just a year old.
by Sylvana Joyce
“Why don’t you do anything with music?” my mother quietly implored me. She was holding her birthday party at our home in Astoria, and like always, I was eventually asked to sit down at the piano and entertain her guests, which I fought against, though secretly loved. The situation was always the same. I would sit down, and as soon as my hands hit the keys and I opened my mouth, all that passion I had bottled up would come rampaging out like a wild bull, and the audience – any and all of them – would respond with unbridled adulation. I don’t know what I detested more: that my mother would always show me off to her friends, or that my outbursts of song would end in countless word of praise and encouragement…or that my mother was right.
My mother is a complicated woman. Born in Cluj, Romania, the daughter of a well-known composer turned diplomat, she had the advantage of a privileged adult life despite living in one of the harshest political climates in Eastern Europe during the latter half of the 20th century. She attended the best schools, learned over five languages fluently, and had a closet of clothes that I would have happily traded with my own. She was also one of the elite few who could still be trusted to travel outside Romania’s borders; leaving for good wasn’t allowed and punishable by imprisonment and death.
In 1979, my 32-year-old mother packed light, feigned a casual quick-trip goodbye kiss on her father’s cheek, and left for America, not to return for many years. But she didn’t leave for reasons you would expect. She wasn’t fleeing Communist Romania, though it had ripped her family apart as a kid (her father was jailed for several years for being actively against the regime). She left her family, her friends, her aspirations to become an ambassador and her clothes behind, in pursuit of my father’s dream of becoming a surgeon in America.
This was a quality of my mother that followed her throughout her life. My mother was known to all of her friends for being a woman to grant many favors and ask for nothing in return. Time and time again, my mom would extend a hand to those in need, dropping her own agenda to help someone else. What amazes is me is not just that she had the bravery to leave her home country and spend two years in America by herself until she could receive her citizenship (and bring my father across the sea), but that when my father would eventually leave her, a year after I was born, she never took raising me alone as a burden. To her, I was a miracle, her “everything.”
Being my mother’s “everything” wasn’t always as much of a perk as the title might suggest. She was the classic helicopter mother, constantly doting on me and worrying that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself, though I didn’t help my case much by being very accident-prone as a kid. By the time I reached puberty, I couldn’t be bothered with her nagging and constant advice-giving. Though she meant well, she could be very critical of everything I did, demanding only the best. Everything was considered fair play, from my grades, to my hairdos, to my choice in boyfriends, to – I kid you not – when and how frequently I would brush my teeth. By the time I was 17, I couldn’t wait to fly far from the nest. I attended Boston University for music performance and education, a good four-hour drive away from my hometown.
My mom’s criticism had grown more acerbic in the first years after her diagnosis of Parkinsons disease. Shortly after my father died (I was a teen), my mother suddenly had trouble walking and was incapacitated by terrible migraines. Like any other obstacle my mom had faced in her life, she took her diagnosis with grace and pride, but I noticed that her worries and need to control were exacerbated (understandably) by feeling her health slip away.
I cannot imagine all the pain she must have gone through, continuing to raise me and knowing her days as an independent adult were numbered. She struggled against that harsh sentence, and sometimes I came along for the ride. As much as my mother fought her disease and her pride, my reaction was even worse. Between her whirlwind of emotions and her stern, uncompromising views on my choices, my relationship with my mother became very strained. We’d constantly get into arguments where both of us would end up crying. After college, living with her was unbearable. I didn’t know how to handle fighting against a woman who clung to her need to dictate and yet obviously needed so much support.
Sitting in the apartment where my mom and I had lived, entertaining her guests, and being told I had great potential as a composer, just like my grandfather, was somehow a slap in the face to me. I had been spending years putting my foot down, telling my mother that her opinions about my life had very little to do with what I wanted. But the truth was staring me in the face. It was unavoidable. Take all the pain and anguish of my mother’s hard life away, and I saw a woman who fought every day to tell me that I was capable of greatness. My mother was right.
There was no more avoiding it, no more fighting her. And when I could accept it, then came the flood. The guilt of feeling that I’d abandoned her. That I hadn’t been enough of a support to her as her daughter. That I was more willing to be right than to listen to her words, some of which had come out of years of incredibly tumultuous and harrowing experiences. She had succeeded in teaching me the very thing she couldn’t go back and undo for herself. She had taught me to fight for my dreams.
Pursuing my music as a career was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life. It has been a fight, but it is a fight I have been training for since childhood. As if catching up for lost time, the success of my band has been both immense and frighteningly quick. My mother, beaming with pride, would come to each and every one of my shows, at first, with her walker and entourage in toe. When our band released our first record, the release show was held on the 33rd anniversary of her emigration from Romania.
Scores of journalists, bands, and executives wanted to hear my story, and fans were thrilled by our fusion of Gypsy Folk and Rock. Though my mother’s health eventually declined to a point where making it out to a show was too difficult for her (she commonly has thrashing episodes where she shakes violently), she forced herself to come watch me beat out 160 other songwriters in this year’s Ultimate Singer-Songwriter competition. I knew it would probably be one of the last times she would ever see me perform.
My mother is not a perfect woman. But for all the curve balls life has thrown at her, she has tackled them better than any other person could fathom. For my mom’s birthday last year, I decided that my mother wouldn’t have to ask. My band set up in her living room and as her friends comforted her (she had spent the entire day convulsing), my band and I performed a short set of my songs. I got encouragement from the audience, just like I had received as a kid. But what melted my heart was the approval I’d gotten from the one person that counted the most, the coolest person I know: my mother.
Sylvana Joyce and her band, the Moment, were founded in the summer of 2010 when Sylvana put out a craigslist ad looking for musicians to bring life to her music. But don’t let their status of ingenue fool you: Six months after the band’s inception, they had already received recognition from the industry, with a full week feature by MTV and Ourstage as a “Needle in the Haystack” Artist. Sylvana’s band has already graced the stage over 70 times, including festivals, showcases and live performances in NYC, New Jersey and Boston. They have also garnered a following through their musical features at The Inspired Word, a spoken word series which have featured a slew of industry talent including Golden Globe Award winners, Grammy nominated singers, American Idol finalists, and HBO Def Poetry stars. They’ve been nominated for “Best Band” and “Outstanding Music Video” at the 2010-2011 Hoboken Music Awards and are the WINNERS of the 2012 No Contracts Needed Battle of The Bands competition hosted by UnRegular Radio, a popular online indie station based in Boston, MA. Sylvana, a classically trained pianist and professional actress, leads a showstopping performance with her powerhouse voice and natural star quality. Sylvana Joyce and The Moment’s music is the perfect mix of gypsy rock, blues and cabaret that has drawn comparisons to Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Gogol Bordello and The Dresden Dolls.